Over the past two seasons, the Timbers have shown a penchant for reacting well with their backs to the wall. Time and again in 2011 the Timbers brought themselves back from the brink of playoff elimination with a big result, only to be eliminated in the last week of the season.
In 2012, until the wheels fell off the wagon before John Spencer’s firing, the Timbers again showed their ability to pull out a win when times are desperate; beating Sporting KC, Seattle, and San Jose in must-win situations.
On September 15th, for the first time in their MLS history, the Timbers will play with something meaningful to win instead of everything to lose.
On Saturday night the Timbers beat the Vancouver Whitecaps for the third time in two years to move within a win against Seattle of securing the Cascadia Cup.
The match started as competitively as it would remain throughout. While Vancouver would win their fair share of possession, it was Portland that created the chances early on. The Timbers earned their first chance in the fourth minute as Darlington Nagbe dispossessed Alain Rochat on the right wing, dribbled toward the box, but sent his slicing shot high and wide of the far post.
Nagbe would reaffirm his intention to put his mark on the game ten minutes later, as a darting run through the center of the Whitecaps midfield set up Franck Songo’o for an effort from the left corner of the eighteen that Joe Cannon saved at the near post.
In the forty-first minute Nagbe’s influence would be rewarded. After Jack Jewsbury sprung Bright Dike on the right wing, the big striker played the ball back into the center to Eric Alexander. Diego Chara’s stand-in cleverly played it forward to a running Jewsbury, who sent a brilliantly weighted ball for Nagbe running into the box. Darlington found himself in behind the ‘Caps defense and cooly slotted behind a helpless Cannon. It was the Timbers’ third brilliant goal in as many games, a sign that the offense has truly turned a corner.
As has been the case so often in 2012, however, the Timbers would yield the lead in short order. After the referee awarded Vancouver an apparently erroneous corner in the forty-fifth minute, Camilo sent the set piece to the far post. Hanyer Mosquera managed to head away, but only as far as the top of the box. After the ball bounced around, Jay DeMerit found a wide-open Kenny Miller in front of goal, who easily found the net at the near post.
Unlike previous concessions, however, the Timbers did not follow this one up with another. Instead, Portland came out after halftime and largely reestablished control of the game.
The first chance of the second stanza, however, went to the ‘Caps. After another Vancouver corner, a ‘Caps player got a touch toward goal, but was denied by Ricketts with a diving save. The rebound fell to Andy O’Brien, but the English defender’s second effort was also stoned by Ricketts after apparently flying in from nowhere. For a few moments, it looked like the Jamaican keeper had himself a second consecutive Save of the Week candidate.
Portland found its winner in the fifty-fifth minute when Songo’o bent a free kick from thirty yards out over Vancouver’s wall, through Joe Cannon’s hands, and just inside the near post. While the shot certainly should have been saved by Cannon, it resulted in a very just first goal for Songo’o, whose recent brilliance has been a integral part of the Timbers’ offensive renaissance.
Vancouver would come back looking for the equalizer, however, and very nearly find it in the seventy-fourth minute. After Dane Richards sprinkled a little nutmeg on Kosuke Kimura and found himself near the byline, he looked to send a cross to Miller at the far post. A dubiously prudent onrushing Ricketts, however, blocked the cross. Unfortunately again for the Timbers, though, the rebound fell for the ‘Caps Camilo, who sidestepped Ricketts and sent a ball toward the seemingly open net. At the last moment, however, an aware Steven Smith jumped back toward goal and cleared the net-bound effort off the line to preserve the lead.
There, friends, is your Save of the Week.
Vancouver would be at it again three minutes later. This time Barry Robson collected a ball from Miller just past the center circle, found space in the Timbers midfield, and unleashed a shot from distance that Ricketts could only awkwardly parry away.
Any chance Vancouver had for a comeback found its end in the eighty-third minute, when second half substitute Darren Mattocks was sent off after catching David Horst in the face with an errant elbow.
From there, the ten-man Whitecaps couldn’t maintain enough possession or find sufficient space to break down a Timbers team desperate for their first victory in more than six weeks.
The result sets up a speciously simple task for the Timbers. Beat Seattle and win the Cascadia Cup. In a season in which seemingly everything has gone wrong, the Timbers have a legitimate shot at silverware for the first time in their MLS history.
- This was a pretty darn good game. I thought the Timbers had the better of the play, but Vancouver did nicely to give themselves three really good chances at goal – one of which they put away. Ultimately the 2-1 victory was a just result for Portland, but this was a vastly different game from the 2-1 walkover against the Whitecaps in 2011. And yes, that was a backhanded compliment to our kindly northern neighbors.
- I can’t help but be shocked at the stunning incongruity between Gavin Wilkinson’s USL-era tactics and those he has employed – to, admittedly, some success – with the MLS Timbers. During the USL days Gavin earned a reputation as a doggedly defensive tactician, committed to getting goals by being conservative in the midfield and playing direct on offense. Today, he has the Timbers playing a fluid 4-3-3 with a disconcertingly exposed defense. I’m not sold on these tactics with this group of players as a long-term solution, but it has been successful in revitalizing the offense and making the Timbers less of an eyesore.
Donovan Ricketts, 5 – Three weeks in, we’re getting a good idea of what we have in Ricketts. He’s been nothing if not mercurial. One moment, he makes a seemingly impossible double save. The next, he’s unnecessarily abandoning his post in front of goal and requiring heroics from Steven Smith to keep the ball out of the net.
Steven Smith, 7 – He’s officially out of his slump. Aside from the clearance off the line – which was fantastic – he had an otherwise solid game in defense. Isn’t getting forward as much as he used to, but with the Timbers working better through the middle of the field he doesn’t need to.
David Horst, 3 – Fell asleep on the concession and the Timbers were punished for it. Horst’s once-per-match facepalm has cost Portland again and again. You have to think Eric Brunner has a one-way ticket back into the starting lineup when he’s fully fit.
Hanyer Mosquera, 6 – Nice game from Mosco. Dominance in the air and solid marking make for a successful outing for a central defender.
Kosuke Kimura, 3.5 – Also fell asleep on the concession, as both he and Horst were marking nothing but turf. Had a little impact going forward, but nothing terribly appreciable.
Jack Jewsbury, 6 – We saw Captain Jack getting involved in the attack a little more than usual on Saturday, as we seemed to be playing a more box-to-box than he has in the past. It paid off on the first goal, as Jack registered his third assist of the season with a magnificent pass to Nagbe.
Eric Alexander, 6 – Nice game playing in a little bit of an unfamiliar spot for Eric. Had a hand in the first goal, and generally did well to orchestrate offense and get back defensively.
Darlington Nagbe, 8 – Man of the Match. Man of the Month. The kid is just on fire right now.
Sal Zizzo, 4.5 – After two remarkable outings last week, Sal came back down to earth a little bit on Saturday. Vancouver seemed to be respecting his pace a little bit more than Toronto or New York, which made things harder for Sal, but opened up some space for others. Maybe that grade is a little bit harsh.
Bright Dike, 4 – I actually thought this was a pretty anonymous performance from Dike. Showed a little bit better touch a few times, but otherwise was dramatically upstaged by Nagbe’s brilliance.
Franck Songo’o, 6 – A little bit lucky on the goal, but was still very active for Portland on the left side. Great to see him open his Timbers account, though. He still needs to work on his fitness, however, as he was getting awfully friendly with the turf in the late stages.
Rodney Wallace, 4 – I thought this was a peculiar substitution considering Franck looked gassed. Rod didn’t make much of an impression playing square pegly in the center of midfield.
Danny Mwanga, 5 – Came on late, but had a couple moments of good hold up play as the Timbers were salting the match away.
Lovel Palmer, INC.
Preseason Prediction: Timbers 2, Whitecaps 0. Boyd brace.
Actual Result: Timbers 2, Whitecaps 1. Nagbe, Miller, Songo’o.
Onward, Rose City!
 Two things about this play. First, it appeared as though the linesman waited to watch the replay on the big screen before advising the referee, who clearly followed his assistant’s advice on issuing the straight red card. Second, after re-watching the play, I think it’s a harsh decision. Sure, the elbow went up, but it didn’t appear to be particularly malicious or dangerous. Surely nothing worse than what Tim Cahill pulled last week. Yellow? No question. Red? Harsh.
 Every once in a while, a basketball coach with inferior talent in his squad will get his team to just run like crazy and try to out-score their opponents. This usually works to a certain extent – say, bringing a poor team up near .500 – but ultimately is insufficient to bring the team out of mediocrity. The Timbers’ tactics feel a little bit like that. It might work with more dependable defensive personnel – paging Eric Brunner – but right now I’m not sure it’s any more than a Band-Aid.
 I’m making up words now. Probably a good thing we’re almost through here.
 And a hilariously incorrect quip about the Timbers capping off a hot August.